§ Lords Amendment: No. 121, in page 87, line 13, leave out from "which" to "remove" in line 15.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.
The House will recognise that this is familiar territory. The last time we discussed this basic proposition I said that we had been round the course so often that I was beginning to feel dizzy. Yet here we are again. The arguments are 1685 so familiar. The positions which both sides take have been so clearly stated on so many occasions that it would be superfluous to rehearse the matter again. If Conservative Members wish to produce any new arguments I will, with the leave of the House, seek to reply to them.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
With this amendment we may also discuss Lords Amendment No. 177, in Schedule 14, page 148, line 17, leave out paragraphs 2 to 7.
§ Mr. Madel
I guessed that the Minister would say only a few words on this subject. As he says, we have been round this course many times. He said that he was prepared to deal with any fresh arguments if they were advanced. I suggest that there are such arguments, since we are now told by the Government that they are anxious to legislate in the 1976–77 Session on the whole question of industrial participation.
By having this debate we are, in a sense, lifting the curtain on this wider issue. I hope that the Minister will understand that those of us who serve in Committee on the Industrial Democracy Bill are beginning to feel that we were fobbed off when the Government said that they would set up a committee pretty quickly to examine the whole matter. Only yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) challenged the Secretary of State on when the chairman of the committee of inquiry into industrial democracy and the members of the committee will be announced. He received no answer as to who these people will be and when their appointments will be announced.
The Government are being mildly optimistic if they believe that they can get the inquiry to do its work and to report, and be in a position to put the Bill before the House in the 1976–77 Session. That is optimistic, and unlikely to happen, but if it does happen we shall be getting off to a bad start. In our view there will not have been sufficient consultation and discussion before the Government come out with the Bill.
The question of safety representatives and the election of safety representatives from amongst employees touches on the wider debate on industrial participation. 1686 Many times the Government say in the House and outside that it is impossible to carry policies, and to carry the country with the Government, unless the Government have the assent of working people. By that, we assume that the Government are including the 10½ million people who choose not to belong to trade unions. There is nothing sinister in that. We went through the conscience debate only a few minutes ago. It is a fact of industrial life that there are many people who choose not to belong to a trade union.
When the Government say that the trade unions are by far the best organisations to represent people on safety committees and to decide who shall be their representatives we would say that if that be the case it should be an incentive for the trade unions to go on a great recruiting drive to get more people to join their ranks so that there will not be the argument between trade union members and non-unionists as to who should represent employees on safety committees.
On 5th August the Under-Secretary of State raised three matters. The Opposition did not respond to them on that occasion because we suspected that those in another place would amend the Bill as it has now been amended. Firstly, the Under-Secretary said that the Government believed that safety representatives should be appointed by the trade unions. We would say to that that the Govern-men must surely accept that other people must be brought into the matter of health and safety at work.
Secondly, the Minister said that when appointed the representatives will need the special facility of an organisation such as a trade union. That is all right as far as it goes, but there may be factories and organisations where the existing facilities and consultative arrangements between the managers and the unions, and the managers and the people who are not members of a union, are equally good as those that may be provided by a trade union.
Thirdly, the Minister said that if the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act were amended the result would be that all kinds of spurious organisations would use the provisions of Section 2(5) as a sidewind to gain recognition.
1687 That is not the case. We have carefully considered how ACAS will view the matter of recognition of a union. We have been assured that frivolous representations to ACAS will not be considered. I would have thought that ACAS's inquiry procedure into recognition issues will follow the line that the Minister set out on 5th August.
Finally, there is the wider issue of industrial democracy. We all hope that the experiment at British Leyland will be successful. In today's Financial Times there is a long article on industrial democracy. It points out that specific references are also to be made on subjects such as health and safety. I draw the Minister's attention to two points in the article. I ask him to think about them before finally asking the House to reject the amendment. The system that has been designed in British Leyland, as the article says,virtually guarantees that the 'big name' shop stewards—such as Mr. Eddie McGarry, the leading TGWU stewards at Triumph in Coventry, and Mr. Derek Robinson, the AUEW senior steward at Long bridge, will emerge on the top committee. This is causing some resentment among some of the workforce who feel that industrial democracy should be based on all the workers deciding who should represent them.That is a note of caution that the Government should think about. It may be that there will be no argument about the two people I have mentioned being the leading lights and eventually being the people who will go on the British Leyland board as the worker representatives, but the article underlines the need to ensure that all the work force is represented. We argue that all the work force should feel represented on health and safety committees.
The article refers to the compromise over elections. The eventual compromise was that there should be constituencies. That means that each car plant will be divided between eight and 15 constituencies. There will be elections only when two shop stewards fail to agree amongst themselves on who should go forward. That will give the larger unions immense power. Provision is also made for fallback elections when major dissent builds up. Those provisions seek to avoid dissent over the issue of health and safety at work.
1688 We hope that the amendment will not be dismissed. It seeks to ensure that the work force, including the non-unionised, will feel that they are playing a part in health and safety matters. The Minister says that we have been round this track many times, but I urge the Government not to proceed on the course that they appear to have selected.
They have to decide, when the inquiry into industrial democracy has completed its work, whether it will be trade-union appointed people who serve on the new committees or whether the representatives will be elected from the whole work force. The article in today's Financial Times sounds a note of caution as regards British Leyland. I hope that the Government will proceed on the matter of industrial democracy with an open mind. It is because we have an open mind on the vital matter of health and safety committees that we hope the amendment will be carried.
I have heard the Minister say many times how he wants to reduce accidents, how he wants everyone to feel involved in health and safety, and how pleased he was as Minister to bring the Robens recommendations into law. Surely we should be totally certain that all employees will be covered and will feel part of the system of health and safety committees. It is for those reasons, and because we want to be cautious about industrial democracy and ensure that everyone feels involved, that we disagree with the line that the Government are taking.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
It would be discourteous of me not to make some response to the points put forward by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel). I recognise the persistency and the consistency with which he has followed the proposition he has put to the House. I shall not seek to repeat the arguments that he quoted from my speech. They are still valid arguments, notwithstanding what he has said about the article in the Financial Times and the resentment that is felt by workers at British Leyland at what is proposed. I have not read the article, and I am not familiar with what is going on there in exact terms. I shall read the article.
I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman has said shakes the arguments 1689 that we have presented, bearing in mind the overriding reasons for our clinging to the position that we have adopted. We believe that to proceed in any other way would lead to industrial relations problems. I stress once again that there is nothing in the position that we have adopted that prevents any employer in a non-unionised situation from entering into any arrangement—this applies to the work people as well—that is felt to be appropriate in providing for the appointment of safety representatives and the establishment of safety committees. I can see nothing that upsets any existing arrangements.
I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that the detailed way in which the provisions will be made are to be embodied in regulations. The Commission is charged with the responsibility of drafting the regulations. During the period of uncertainty since the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act received the Royal Assent the progress we all hoped to see in the producing of the regulations has been inhibited.
Eventually the Commission decided that the sensible way to proceed would be to take account of the Government's clear intentions and to prepare draft regulations. Those regulations will be published shortly and will be subject to consultation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will carefully examine the draft regulations. He may feel it appropriate to make submissions which may influence their final form. I recognise what the hon. Gentleman said and appreciate his persistence. However, I cannot take any other course than to suggest that the House should seek to disagree with the Lords in their amendment.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
I well remember the Under-Secretary of State, in an earlier debate, quoting as an authority on these matters—although not on this issue—the distinguished correspondent of The Times, Eric Wig ham. The Minister should be reminded of Mr. Wigham's views on these proposals. He said, in a recent article:Even more unreasonable was the Bill's proposal to amend the Health and Safety at Work Act to restrict the appointment of workers' safety representatives to those appointed by recognised trade unions, and the Lords have removed this restriction.1690 In other words, he was saying these proposals constitute a flaw in an otherwise useful piece of legislation.
I am sorry that the Minister persists in his misguided, highly dogmatic and partisan approach to this question. I regret that he has not paid more attention to the writings of a man to whom, in the past, he has accorded such praise. If the Government persist in trying to delete the Lords amendment, it will be necessary once again to divide the House.
§ Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 268, Noes 215.
§ [For Division List 376 see col. 1779.]
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords Amendment: No. 122, in page 87, line 15, leave out
remove the special provisions relating to health and safety at work in agriculture and".
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this amendment it is proposed to take part of Amendment 177 and the following amendments:
§ No. 176, in page 148, line 15, leave out paragraph 1.
§ No. 178, in page 149, line 1, leave out paragraphs 9 to 20.
No. 179, in page 150, line 27, at end insert—
. It shall be the duty of the Commission to submit to the Secretary of State and to Agriculture Ministers at such times and in such manner as may be prescribed, reports as to the operation of the Act in its application to the relevant agricultural purposes, having regard to the general purposes of Part I; and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State concerned with agriculture in Scotland shall cause any such report to be included in the next respective reports to Parliament under Section 29.
§ Mr. Walker
As in the case of the last amendment, we have been over this ground several times and the House is familiar with the issues involved. It is familiar with the arguments that have been deployed on both sides of the issue, and both sides quite clearly know where 1691 they stand. It would be superfluous of me to reiterate the arguments used so frequently in the past.
If any hon. Member wishes to raise any new matter to which the House may feel it appropriate for me to respond, with permission I shall seek to do so. I think that the House should proceed as quickly as possible.
I notice that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) is waving the blue briefing that he has had from the National Farmers' Union and perhaps wants to use all its arguments. I assure him that I have read it carefully word for word, but I doubt whether hon. Members have all read it with the same eager avidity. I am familiar with the arguments. There is nothing new in them. If the hon. Gentleman wants to deploy them, it is a matter for him and the House.
I suggest that the sensible course is for the House to reach a final decision on these matters relating to the health and safety of agricultural workers.
§ Mr. Madel
As the Minister has said, we have been round this argument a great many times. I am sure that we all start from the position that we want to improve safety in farms throughout the country. The point at issue between us tonight, as in previous debates, is a purely administrative one; whether the Ministry of Agriculture or the Health and Safety Commission should be ultimately responsible for ensuring that safety is given the highest priority on our farms.
The Minister will remember that in Committee my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) put forward a compromise plan, bearing in mind that we are in the middle of National Farm Safety Year. In his plan my right hon. Friend suggested that safety matters specific to agriculture and forestry should be subject to some form of inspection by the Health and Safety Commission every five years. We are not rigid as to time and we would be perfectly willing for it to be three-yearly. I hope that the Government may say something about that compromise plan, because we left the matter without dividing the House 1692 and without a full answer from the Minister.
There is also the fact that 31 additional full-time agricultural safety officers are being appointed, in addition to which the Minister has often said that there is total unanimity, in unions affiliated to the TUC, concerning what the Government want to do. I am sure the Minister knows that the Society of Civil Servants, which is affiliated to the TUC, is not happy about the change that the Government want to make, and wants to transfer responsibility for farm safety to the Health and Safety Commission.
All that we would say, in our usual flexible and understanding way from these benches, is that we ought to see how the Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture work together. If what the Ministry of Agriculture is doing is unsatisfactory the Commission can censure it, as the Minister knows. We can then have a full debate and the Government can make rapid alterations.
The Government always give the impression of being in a great rush, and that is one of our objections to many things in the Bill. Let us see how we go. If the Ministry of Agriculture is shown to be falling down in this vital job of making sure that safety has the highest priority on farms, we shall agree with the Government in making the change. We put forward a fair and reasonable compromise plan on 17th July, and we hope that the Government will accept it. If the arrangement proves to be unsatisfactory we shall agree with the Government making a change, but at least we feel that time should be given to see how it works out.
§ Question put. That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 249. Noes, 228.
§ [For Division List 377 see col. 1783.]
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ [Special Entry.]
§ Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.